Khurumjari . This Manipuri greeting meaning ‘hello’ was one of the many things that Satish Kumar, 20, learnt during his trip to Cardiff for the Homeless World Cup 2019. It is an annual international football tournament for men and women. He picked it up from a Manipuri team-mate. Satish also spoke to several international counterparts with the aid of Google Translate, struggled to eat “the half-boiled food” in England, flew in an air plane for the first time and scored over 10 goals for India in the tournament, helping the team win the Dragon Cup (a trophy presented to the competition’s fourth-tier winners). But Khurumjari is what comes to his mind as he recalls his first trip abroad, which has “changed” his life.
“People I don’t know from my neighbourhood greet me these days, ask how I am,” says Satish, seated in the decrepit concrete gallery of Corporation Grounds, opposite St Charles High School, Lingarajapuram. It is a late weekday afternoon. Except a few auto rickshaws and Omnis waiting to pick up school children, the untended mud ground is vacant with several spots marred with tyre tracks.
“Morning and evenings, you will see the ground teeming with people playing football,” Satish says about the place where he spends most of his day. “There are many a lot of talented players, (in and around Lingarajapuram) who go unnoticed. Most of them are unaware of the avenues to professional football.”
Satish, fortunately, was spotted by former Mohun Bagan player M Muniyappa, now a football coach in Bengaluru, while he was an eighth grader playing barefoot on the Corporation Grounds.
“He reminds me of I M Vijayan,” says Muniyappa, “He has great skills. You can play him as a striker, put him in the left wing, right wing, midfield. He is also obedient and hardworking. I had to persuade his parents to let him play as they were against it.”
Satish lives with his father, who is a painter, mother who works as a domestic help and an elder sister in a small one bedroom house near Lingarajapuram. “We struggle to make ends meet,” he says. His parents didn’t believe football could feed the family. Until Satish’s Cardiff journey, his father disliked his football ambition — his flunking Class 10 exams didn’t help either.
Satish is a fan of the Indian Super League champions Bengaluru FC and has hardly missed their home games at Sree Kanteerava Stadium. He says he even has a selfie with the team’s skipper Sunil Chhetri. His dream, now, is to play in the ISL. A few years ago, however, it was significantly smaller. “I just wanted to play once at the Bengaluru Football Stadium (BFS),” he says. For someone who has played only on mud, even the artificial turf of BFS was alluring.
“I had never gone beyond Bengaluru. So, going out of the country was beyond my imagination. And, if not for my coach, I would not have gone to Cardiff,” says Satish. A family trip to Velankanni coincided with a national-level slum soccer tournament in Mumbai, supported by BookMyShow’s charity initiative, BookASmile. But his coach urged him to participate in the competition, which led to his selection in the Homeless World Cup.
At Cardiff, for the first time, he met and played against people who were not from his country. “ They were big, so it was hard to block them on the field,” he says, “There were also a few people with disabilities, who played with us and we learnt to treat them equally.”
After Cardiff, he earned the admiration of his neighbours and the approval of his father, but not enough money to be financially secure. He is planning to clear his Class 10 exams to make himself eligible if any employment opportunity comes his way through football.
Satish, who plays for the Income Tax department in the Bengaluru Super Division, is eyeing a Santosh Trophy spot. For this, he trains for over six hours every day at the Corporation Grounds and also looks out for other young talents who can be groomed. He hopes someone from his neighbourhood, will play in the highest level of football in the country.